Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Superman: Earth One Retro Review – “Ultimate” Superman

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Superman: Earth One

AUTHOR: J. Michael Straczynski
ARTISTS: Shane Davis, Sandra Hope (Inker), Barbara Ciardo (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASED: October 27, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

DC wants their Ultimate line, damn it! And they’re going to rehash these origin stories over and over and over again until SOMEONE gets it right!!!

So I’m guessing because the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely and Frank Miller/Jim Lee teams couldn’t hack it with a monthly schedule on the All-Star books, DC decided to introduce these Earth One graphic novels, which allow creators to tell stories without being bound down by continuity, tradition, etc. This book is the first in the series, with a Batman: Earth One on the way. Ironically, J. Michael Straczynski was actually taken off the monthly Superman title so he could start working on a sequel to this book.

As expected, Superman: Earth One puts Straczynski’s spin on the classic Superman origin story. It follows an early ’20s Clark Kent into Metropolis as he tries to find himself. We get frequent flashbacks to conversations he had with his adopted father, who in this story is deceased. Eventually, an alien being tracks the last surviving Kryptonian to Earth, and threatens to destroy the planet unless he shows himself. Thus, Clark becomes Superman, etc. etc.

If I sound cynical about this book, it’s because I am. I came into it that way. There’s no story in the comic book industry that’s been rehashed more than Superman’s origin. Geoff Johns was in the middle of rehashing it with Superman: Secret Origin when they announced this book. I understand different writers bring different perspectives and textures to the story. But when you get right down to it, it’s still the same story Just because you can put your own spin on something doesn’t mean you should. Heck, in All-Star Superman Morrison and Quitely were able to get the origin out of the way in four or five panels! And it was beautiful!

The Clark Kent of Earth One is very moody and broody. He walks around in a hoody and jeans, initially trying to find other ways to help humanity besides being a superhero. Some reviewers have made Twilight comparisons. While I’d prefer not to slander Superman with such a label, it’s not hard to picture Robert Pattinson under that hood. *shudders*

Still, credit where credit is due. Straczynski doesn’t use Lex Luthor, Braniac, or any of the stock villains in this story. He instead opts to create his own villain, whose native race was responsible for destroying Krypton. In every other Superman origin, the planet was simply destroyed via a natural disaster of some kind. Having it destroyed out of malice is an intriguing concept. Shane Davis’ art is also very good. My favorite image in the entire book comes toward the end, where Clark puts on the classic glasses for the first time. It’s a hipster look. But it’s new.

I don’t oppose the idea of a younger, less experienced Superman at all. But I think I’d be more inclined to like this book if so much of it hadn’t been done already. Clark’s recollections about his father are a perfect example. The whole “Son, you were put here for a reason” and “Clark, you’re going to find your place in this world,” and “You’re going to fulfill your true destiny” stuff has been done so much that I almost found myself rolling my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good storytelling. But there’s not much room for Straczynski to put his own spin on that. Or if there was, he didn’t.

For instance, Straczynski depicts The Daily Planet as a paper on the verge of going under, but Geoff Johns did that in Secret Origin. He portrays the public as mixed in terms of how they feel about Superman. But Mark Waid did that in Superman: Birthright, and the mainstream Superman comics have been playing up the “What if he turns on us?” angle for years now.

Bottom line ? I don’t get it. People have been so quick to drop heaps of praise upon this book. But aside from Clark’s age and the new villain, it just seems like a mishmash of things that have already been done. And believe me, they’ve been done better than this. By most standards, Superman: Earth One is a good book. But that’s not because of Straczynski’s creativity. It’s because Superman’s origin story was already good, whether he’s in a hoodie or not.

Now that Superman: Earth One has told its first chapter, hopefully Straczynski and Davis can work on being more innovative with their storytelling, and giving us things we haven’t seen before. In their defense, they obviously didn’t want to do a complete 180, and change the core essence of Superman. But this book breaks very little ground, if any.

RATING: 6.5/10

***IN HINDSIGHT: All of this still pretty much rings true. Amazingly, after all these years I still haven’t forgiven Straczynski for bailing on the “Grounded” storyline. It had so much potential and he just abandoned it.***

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A Batman: Earth One Review – A Bumbling Batman

Batman: Earth One coverTITLE: Batman: Earth One
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Gary Frank
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: July 4, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There are some interesting ideas in the pages of Batman: Earth One. But the book’s mishandling of the Batman character makes it something not worth sitting through just to experience those new ideas.

Though they have the noble purpose of exposing iconic characters to a broader audience, DC Comics’ Earth One line of graphic novels has never sat right with me. Why? I’m glad you asked…

1.It’s yet another attempt by DC to replicate the success of Marvel’s Ultimate line after the disintegration of the All Star line a few years ago.

2. It gives creators an excuse to keep needlessly rehashing origin stories, particularly but not limited to Superman’s.

Batman Earth One, Gary Frank, Garbage3. Given the recent relaunch and continuity reshuffle that took place at DC via the New 52 initiative, introducing revamped alternate versions of these characters is somewhat redundant.

4. As I understand it, the All Star line didn’t work because the creators involved couldn’t adhere to a monthly schedule. That’s why the Earth One line consists of original graphic novels as opposed to monthly comic books. But given that these Earth One books are apparently only coming out on an annual basis per character, that leaves a pretty big window for these new readers DC is hoping to draw in to either lose interest or lose track of the second book.

All this being said, Superman: Earth One had it’s high points. Shane Davis’ art was especially impressive, we saw a new villain introduced into the Superman mythos, and the image of the hoodie-wearing, moody and broody Clark Kent is a memorable one. The book wasn’t at all necessary, nor worth all the hype it got. But it had its moments. Batman: Earth One has similar high points and moments, but in the end isn’t as successful as its predecessor.

In Earth One, we see a less experienced Batman take to the streets to find the man who murdered his parents. At his side is Alfred Pennyworth, a hardened war veteran who served alongside Thomas Wayne, and apparently handled a large portion (if not all) of Bruce’s training. As Batman takes on the criminal element in Gotham City, he’s plagued by inexperience and malfunctioning gadgets. All the while Mayor Oswald Cobblepot (who most fans know as the Penguin) is elbow deep in corruption, including a particular disturbing partnership with a child killer.

Batman: Earth One, Gary Frank, Jim GordonThis book seems to want to put some of the “man” back in Batman by having him be less experienced, more prone to mistakes, and thus more vulnerable in the field. This would theoretically add more drama to all the action sequences. Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli pulled this effect off to perfection with the fire escape sequence in Batman: Year One. Like the entirety of Earth One, that scene is about Bruce’s inexperience and naivety when he first puts the costume on. It illustrates how even with expert fighting skills and years of training, it’s still extremely easy to mess up and get killed when you’re dressing up like Dracula and running around punching people. They did a similar scene with Bruce, Jim Gordon and the cops in Batman Begins. In both those sequences Bruce looked entirely competent. He was just inexperienced.

In Batman Earth One, Bruce does not look competent. He looks like an idiot who’s had some karate training and now thinks he’s qualified to single-handedly take on the underworld and solve the mystery of who killed his parents. The mistakes he makes in this book don’t endear him to us as someone who’s human and fallible. They make him look like an arrogant fool who constantly needs to be bailed out by his butler (who by the way, looks a lot like Jeremy Irons).

Batman: Earth One, eyes, Gary FrankOn one of the first pages in this book there’s a scene where Batman, who at this point has looked as grim and scary as always, aims out his grappling gun and fires it, only to have the ropes become a tangled mess (shown above). Given Batman’s wide-eyed look and his subsequent tumble from a rooftop into a pile of trash, I’m not sure if Johns and Frank were going for laughter here, but from a tonal standpoint it just doesn’t work. There’s a similar scene where Batman tries to swing from a building, but his body contorts and he ends up crashing through a window. He lands on a table covered in assorted food, and in one shot we seem him covered in a mix of blood and misguided dinner. Is this funny? Is this dramatic? What are we thinking here?

Oddly enough, the most interesting character we see in this book is Harvey Bullock, who regular Batman fans know as a portly, unshaven cop with bad habits. In Earth One, Bullock is a cop show host who comes to Gotham for the sake of publicity and fame, but deep down he also has good intentions. He’s partnered with Jim Gordon, who’s had his hope sucked dry by this brutal and corrupt city. Frankly, I’d much rather have read a book about Bullock and Gordon than a bumbling Batman and his grumpy butler. Harvey’s naive game show host demeanor is a fun contrast to Gordon’s worn down state of being. Both also characters go through distinct transformations, and end the book at very different places than they started.

Batman: Earth One, Gary Frank, Birthday BoyThe book also makes Martha Wayne a member of the Arkham family, as in Arkham Asylum. We see that she grew up in the house that will presumably become the asylum later, and there’s a history of mental instability in her family. This opens the door for a more literal take on the question of whether Batman is as crazy as his villains. It doesn’t go anywhere in this book, but it’s interesting.

We also meet a frightening serial killer called “the Birthday Boy.” I can’t say much about him without spoiling things. But he’s another character I’d rather have spent time with than our arrogant, bratty title character. I never thought I’d be saying that about Batman…

Regardless, Gary Frank’s art is as strong as it’s ever been. The most notable aspect of the Batman costume he creates here is that he shows us Bruce’s eyes through the cowl, instead of drawing the white slits that have been one of the character’s trademarks since he was created. It’s a nice change, as Bruce’s eyes obviously give us a better illustration of whatever emotion he happens to be feeling in the scene. Similarly, Jim Gordon’s eyes sometimes have that far away look, which is a nice unspoken look at his mental state.

Batman: Earth One, Gary Frank, AlfredIn a way, that shot of the grappling gun is exactly like what happened to Batman: Earth One. At first glance it looks pretty cool, but things get fowled up pretty quickly. In that moment we’re not sure what to think, except that what we’re seeing is yet another rehash nobody asked for. I’m hopeful that the writing of these Earth One books will pick up in quality once they get around to characters like Wonder Woman, the Flash, and others whose origins haven’t been trampled on quite as much as Superman and Batman.

RATING: 4/10

Image 1 from multiversitycomics.com. Image 2 from ifanboy.com. Images 3 and 4 from comicvine.com. Image 5 from pixshark.com.

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